The Regent University theatre department presented a limited showing of The Heiress from March 4-7, 2021 in the Dede Robertson Theatre. Under the direction of Professor John Forkner, a 2018 MFA in Acting graduate of Regent, the Regent cast made the show engaging and captivating and did a wonderful job embodying their characters. Based on the novel Washington Square by Henry James, the play takes place in a parlor in the home of Dr. Austin Sloper in Washington Square in New York in 1850. The drama follows a story of wealth, young love, disappointment, and betrayal, and takes the audience on a journey to the past- a different culture, a different society, a different time.
The play opens with the return of Dr. Austin Sloper, portrayed by Remy Patterson, who then speaks with his widowed sister (played by Nyoka Muawad), who is staying in his home for a season and Maria (played by Bella Wisham), who works in his home. The sibling duo had a wonderful stage presence, ensuring that the audience had a good idea of what to expect both from the characters and actors respectively throughout the remainder of the play.
After the introduction of Dr. Sloper and Lavinia, the next character to come onstage was Cathrine Sloper, the daughter of Dr. Sloper, portrayed by Gabrielle Bauman. Her attention to expression both in body and in voice engaged the audience members from her first few moments on stage, and continued to captivate throughout the entirety of the show.
The play’s progression was aided by the introduction of yet even more characters, Catherine’s cousin Marian (played by Elisa Cortez), her fiance Arthur Townsend (portrayed by Jaydon Davidson), Marian’s mother, Mrs. Almond (played by Virginia Hawley), and finally Morris Townsend (played by Vincent Harrill). Morris Townsend, as the audience learns in later scenes, is the soon-to-be love interest of Catherine.
The relationship between Morris and Catherine was excellently portrayed. Gabrielle Bauman ensured that the audience followed her transition from shy, quiet, and timid woman to one enamored with the man she had not known for very long, and Vincent Harrill assumed the role of the extraverted lovesick young man with ease. The pair played together to show the audience the essence of a couple facing familial adversity.
The trouble that they face is largely from Dr. Sloper. He is not thrilled with the match of the two, questioning Morris Townsend’s motives- whether it is to gain his daughter or her money. His interaction with Townsend’s sister, Mrs. Montgomery (played by Elissa Newton) shows exactly how intense and serious he is about discovering the truth. Remy Patterson and Vincent Harrill portray in their scenes together the tension of the protective father and confident gentleman caller, and the audience is drawn in from the first signs of it. The argument that the pair finds themselves in shows not only the character of Morris Townsend, but also the fierce and wise love of a father that only wants the best for his child, even if she doesn’t agree with that best. This brings the first act to a close, with Catherine and Morris agreeing to hold off on marriage, per Dr. Sloper’s request, for the duration of a six month European excursion.
Act two is largely an accumulation of scenes of heartache. Gabrielle Bauman portrays the broken heart of a young woman whose first love disappoints her, as Morris Townsend abandons Catherine on the night they are to elope. Catherine’s pain intensifies with the news that while her future is seemingly hopeless, the future of her cousin is bright with the promise of a growing family. Remy Patterson’s approach to the reveal of Dr. Sloper’s terminal illness and Gabrielle’s approach to Catherine’s response show the brokenness of their home. In contrast, however, the pain Bella Wisham shows through her character Maria speaks to the goodness that was had despite the darkness in the relationship between Dr. Sloper and Catherine. The mourning of Lavinia stirs a pity in the hearts of any who know what it is to deeply care for one’s family. Finally, the revenge of Catherine against Morris when he returns shows exactly how deep the scars on her heart have run, and Gabrielle Bauman made sure the entire audience could not only hear her pain but experience it in the moment with her.
In his director notes, Forkner sums up the play by quoting Alfred, Lord Tennyson: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
The entirety of the show seems to be a time capsule. Not only did the language and rhetoric speak to a different time in our country’s history, but the attention to detail both in the costumes and the set by both C.J. Hill (costume designer) and Dave Foster (Scenic Designer) gave the audience a snapshot of a different world, one we rarely get the opportunity to witness.
Coming Up Next
The Fantasticks, by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, will run from April 23-May 2, 2021 in the Dede Robertson Theatre. Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.regent.edu/tickets.
Due to COVID-19 regulations, Regent Theatre has instituted these safety protocols for the safety of our patrons:
- The 712-seat theatre has reduced capacity to 202 persons. Audience members are seated in 2-4 person parties, with three empty seats between parties. In addition, seating rows are alternated with non-seating rows.
- Health screenings are conducted of all audience members as they enter the building.
- Masks are required in all public areas.
- Hand sanitizer is provided in the lobbies.
- Seats are sanitized between performances.
While the theatre may look a bit different, the audience can still expect a delightful experience and enjoy the show confidently knowing their safety and health are of the utmost importance to the staff at Regent University.